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0. 1 The Ibibio-Speaking People and Classification 
of the Ibibio Language. 

The Ibibio of Akwa Ibom State constitute the fourth largest 
ethnic group in Nigeria, after the three major ones - Hausa, 
Igbo and Yoruba. They number about four million, speak 
Ibibio as their mother tongue and inhabit much of the South- 
eastern part of the country. Among the four million speakers 
are small groups speaking small 'languages* identified a$ 
Ito, Itu Mbon Uso, Iwere, Nkari and Ukwa (cf. Essien 
1987:34). Speakers of these small 'languages' claim that 
ethnically, they are Ibibio and that their 'languages^ are 
mutually inrelUgible to one another, though the other ibibio 
speakers hardly understand them. In addition to these small 
groups of Ibibio speakers, there are other groups of people 
like the Oron, Okobo and Annang, who though speaking 
variants of Ibibio claim that ethnically they are not Ibibio. 
Together with the Ibeno speaking people, they constitute 
about one miUion and speak Ibibio as a second language. 
Since these other languages, including Obolo (or Andoni) 
also spoken in the Rivers State, and Ibibio belong to one 
group of languages known as Lower Cross, as we shall see 
presently, we might as well refer to the Lower Cross 
languages as Ibibiod languages just as Lower Niger languages 
are referred to as Igboid languages. Ibibio is also spoken in 
many parts of the Cross River State, particularly Calabar, 
Odukpani and Akamkpa Local Government Areas. 

Genetically, the Ibibio language belongs to the Benue- 
Congo sub-family which in turn belongs to the Niger-Congo 
family, one of the largest families of knguages in Africa, 
according to Greenberg's (1963) classification. Still, under 
this genetic classification^ Ibibio belongs to the Lower Cross 
group, a group of closely related languages to which Efik and 
Annang, with which Ibibio forms a cluster of dialects, also 


belong, and to which we refer as Ibibiod, as already pointed 
out above. In a new classification of African languages cur- 
rently being proposed by Professor Kay Williamson and 
others working on the Niger-Congo languages, Ibibio will 
belong to the enlarged New Benue-Congo. 

0.2 Historical Development of the Ibibio Language. 

The Ibibio language is old as the people themselves, dating 
back centuries ago. However, its history as a written language 
is very recent. Although Ibibio was actually written only in 
1983, the attempts to write and develop the language go back 
as far as to the time Efik itself was about to be written in the 
last century (between 1846 and 1862, when Hugh Goldie's 
Dictionary of the Efik Language was published). For accor- 
ding to Jeffreys (1935:106), the first attempt to write Ibibio 
was defeated by only two votes, as the quotation below 

At the Language Conference held in Calabar the motion 
to impose the Efik dialect on the Ibibio race was carried 
by two votes and then, only because two members 
refrained from voting. 

That defeat of Ibibio or victory for Efik has made all the 
difference, for the Efik dialect was to be imposed on the 
Ibibio race by the early missionaries to this part of the world 
whose efforts were directed towards the development of Efik, 
as pointed out by Jeffreys (1935:2) 

The missionaries naturally directed their first studies to 

the Efik language with the result that the Efik have 

benefitted enormously and their language has inevitably 

assumed a position that is not justified either upon 

population or linguistic basis. 

In spite of the initial -set-back for Ibibio, Jeffreys, a one 

time District Officer of Nigeria, produced an orthography for 

the Ibibio language and made a passionate plea to the 

missionary and other authorities that Ibibio be used officially 

side by side with Efik for mutual benefits (cf. Jeffreys 

1935:103). But this orthography was rejected and the attempt 
to make Ibibio an official language failed, as evidenced in 

Two quotations from Rev. E. Smith -s **Shrine of a 
People^s Soul* * have a direct bearing on the situation. 
"Every language is a temple in which the soul of the 
people who speak it is enshrined*' and the other is 
**some authorities believe that a million, others five 
million would constitute the minimum unit for a verna- 
cular literature*'. Yet in Vol. II, No. 4 of the quarterly, 
VAfrica'% it is recommended that Efik, the dialect of 
about 30,000 persons of mixed descent, be forced on 
650,000 pure Ibibio. The recommendation to destroy 
the shrine of a people's soul is done in words that 
suggest it is with their consent and approval. 
Consequent upon this rejection, Ibibio was to remain 
unwritten and unofficial for decades until 1983, when with 
the sponsorship of an Ibibio cultural organization, Akwa 
Esop Imaisong Ibibio, an orthography was produced and 
presented to the Ministry of Education of the then Cross 
River State of which the present Akwa Ibom was a part. The 
orthography, edited by this author, was officially approved 
by the Ministry of Education and in -a letter MOE/COM/IA 
Vol. X/482 of 12th September, 1983, the then Commissioner 
for Education, Professor E.J. Usua, directed that Ibibio be 
taught in all schools in what is now Akwa Ibom State using 
the orthography as the standard one. Ibibio is probably the 
only l^guage so far in Nigeria whose orthography has been 
designed and produced by the owners of the language 
themselves. The orthographies of the other languages, inclu- 
ding those of the major languages, have been produced by 
either expatriate missionaries or government agencies. 


Essien, Okon E, 1990. A Grammar of the Ibibio Language. 
Ibadan, Nigeria: University Press Liinited.